Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Women In PR: "Anything" vs. "Everything"

There has been a lot going on in the PR blogosphere about women. (Kami Huyse, Susan Getgood, John Wagner, etc.)

The notion of "career" vs. "family" is an especially important topic for the PR industry to wrestle with, since so many women are in the profession.

As an agency we have been committed to handling this dilemma as flexibly as possible. We hate to see a bright woman invest 5+ years in the agency only to give up the progress she's made.

The problem with the "career vs. family" debate is the "vs." in the middle. It seems to too often become an "either/or" proposition.

We've set up arrangements including Flex Time and Telecommuting, and, we have even expressed a willingness to investigate Job Sharing and Daycare Assistance. For a handful of women, a situation where they work 3 days in SHIFT's offices and 2 from home has worked well. But, despite this flexibility, some women have decided to walk away from their careers and give motherhood a 100% effort.

As a father I can't fault these women. Who would dare suggest that parenting requires less than a 100% effort? My own wife - who is both beautiful & brilliant - decided to stay home with our kids.

But as an employer who has committed to flexibility, I still can't fathom why so many women - whose careers were meticulously and lovingly nurtured - decide to chuck it all.

I don't have an answer. This issue is too complex to solve in a blog posting. Ultimately we can only continue to strive to be as flexible and supportive as possible, while running a profitable business that is fair to everyone.

And by fair I mean this: to advance in this career, as a man or woman, you should expect to put in approx. 40 hours a week, and, a minimum of about 16 of those hours should be spent with your team.

The litmus test for a successful work/life balance that is fair to the Employee and Employer is whether or not TEAM, CLIENTS, and MANAGEMENT are happy with performance.
  • A TEAM whose leader is only available for 20 hours (max) becomes a team adrift.
  • A CLIENT whose leader is working part-time becomes an unhappy client.
  • A MANAGEMENT team whose stars are not available when needed becomes resentful.
Of course, "work/family balance" is an issue in most industries. It just seems more pressing in PR because a) the majority of the staff are women and, b) so many agencies bend over backwards and make significant investments of time and creativity to support women's dual roles. And yet, despite these PR organizations' substantial commitments to being supportive, they must still address legitimate concerns about female executives' long-term "staying power."

Is it true that "You can have ANYTHING you want, but not EVERYTHING you want"?

Should it be?


Blogger Kami Huyse, APR said...

Todd; Very thoughtful post. It was interesting how you outlined what you think, in terms of hours, that it takes to be successful with clients.

I have found that some weeks it takes 40 hours, some weeks it takes 20 hours and still others it takes 60. I am in tune with the balance that employers have to make, that is why I am out on my own -- no one to get jealous or irritated. I simply do whatever is necessary to make the client happy.

April 18, 2006  
Anonymous Sherrilynne Starkie said...

In your definition of team time, do you require actual face time? Do phone calls, messaging, wiki collaboration etc. count as being available to your team? Just wondering.

April 19, 2006  
Blogger Karen said...

Thanks for drawing attention to this important problem. But as you point out it relates to a much larger social issue.

I teach PR at the University of Georgia, and I grappled with the whole childcare issue for several months before deciding to put my daughter in daycare full time at the age of 20 months (she now goes 25 hours a week and loves it). I found I can't do my job in 25 hours, and I just felt bad all the time because I was either cheating my duties or cheating my daughter. It didn't seem to me to do much good to stay at home two days a week and feel tired and stressed all the time.

My own experience suggests that you CAN'T have everything. Every parent just has to accomodate job and family as best they can.

April 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to say this, but I think a lot of women secretly want to get out of the business world and be taken care of by a husband. I know a woman, for instance, who is the CEO of a major nonprofit with an MBA from an ivy league school who recently confided to me that she'd love to "take some time out" by getting married and having a kid. I guess the idea of being provided for is appealing to men as well as women, but I suspect in women it runs deeper as our society has long promoted in women a feeling that they are -- and, in fact, should be -- dependent on men. I know women with advanced degrees who (feel they) need their husbands help to do the most basic tasks and decisions.

A good book to read on this subject is the Cinderalla Complex -- it was written more than 20 years, but, unfortunately, is still relevant in describing the subconscious tendencies of some women to opt for home and family to escape the rigors of being financially and otherwise self-sufficient.

After all, the truth is, no woman who depends on her husband to take care of her financially or otherwise is truly independent. It all comes down to money, whether society likes to think of it in those terms of not. Ask any divorced woman who has been out of the work force for years.

Then again, perhaps we women are opting out because those rigors in the workplace are tougher for us ... God knows, sexism is everywhere in corporate america.

April 19, 2006  
Anonymous H. St. Jean said...

After reading this article and "The Pink Ghetto", it strikes me the question we should be asking is not why aren't more women taking advantage of the flexible work arrangements being offered, but rather, why aren't more MEN? If more fathers chose to be the primary caregiver to their children (or their aging parents, for that matter) or if they elected some form of flexible work arrangement, it would relieve women of some of that responsibility. More mothers would be able to remain in the work force, and attain those senior level jobs currently filled primarily by men. However, until it becomes socially acceptable for EITHER or BOTH parents to create flexible work arrangements, a disproportionate number of women will continue to choose family obligations over career aspirations.

April 19, 2006  
Blogger PR-Guy said...

Sherrilynne - It is less about the arbitrary "20 hours" than it is about accessability. We've had women execs who say, emphatically, "When I am out of the office, do not call me; and do not ask me to come to any meetings."

As UNDERSTANDABLE as that approach is, I just don't find that it is fair or successful to the Employer or Team. A balance needs to be found, ideally one that favors "Accessability/Flexibility..."

In other words... Don't tell your team that they get you from Mon - Wed, but "do not call" on Thur/Fri. Rather, tell them "I can give you 20 hours, ideally within a specified timeframe, and ideally meetings can be set with as much advance notice as possible - but, basically, you can count on me to be where you need me, when you need me."

April 19, 2006  
Blogger Kami Huyse, APR said...

Todd; I have to agree with you on the flexibility both ways issue. I am also concerned though about the issue of childcare, maybe these execs said this because they had no alternative childcare arrangements, or maybe they were just inflexible. It seems to me that those that want flexible scehdules must be completely transparent about their needs while also making every effort to be flexible.

As for a needing a man to take care of you, I think many women feel the pressures of work, just like men do, but they can see the socially acceptable norm as a way out. What can men do that is socially acceptable? Go to Vail and become a ski instructor? I have to agree with H.St.Jean who brings up the valid point that this also be an option for men, but since they often get paid more than women, it is a hard decision for a family to make. I do know personally two couples where the men DID drop out for awhile to raise the kids though, so maybe all isn't lost ;-)

Also, let's not forget, some women want to channel their significant talents into being a Mom (like Todd's wife, for example) and we should thank them becuase they are doing society a favor by raising well-adjusted and happy children that will turn into productive citizens someday.

April 19, 2006  
Blogger Living in Dupont said...

While I agree with a lot that's been said so far (particularly H. St. Jean's point about men and family), I have to say, it seems that men and women alike CAN have all that they want... but just like in any other profession or decision, they have to know WHAT they want.

I'm a firm believer that everything in life is a decision, even if the circumstances aren't adjustable in anyway. For example, when something bad happens, it happens without anyone's say in the matter (usually, and for this example, at least) - but the choice of how to react to it is sometimes the more important point. So if even something as that is a clear decision, then shouldn't how you spend your time be one as well?

I don't fault the women or the men on either side of family/career fence. I'm sure that each has his or her reasons for doing what they do, and that's all anyone can ask of anyone else.

April 20, 2006  
Anonymous H. St. Jean said...

Interestingly this is a topic that has come up elsewhere in the news today. If you haven't seen this article from today's news, check it out:

Article from today's news - on same topic we were discussing earlier -

"New book revives idea of mommy wars - Author says office moms and stay-at-home moms are fighting, but local women aren't so sure"


Lauri Githens Hatch
Staff writer

(April 20, 2006)

April 20, 2006  
Anonymous Cindi Goodsell said...

Very interesting post, but also somewhat inflexible, don't you think? 40 hours a week is NOT condusive to a work life balance. Your requirement of that is just another reason for these women to opt out of your structure. It's just not good enough. And until agencies fix that, they will keep losing very talented PR people who are also mothers.

I am out on my own, have 5 happy small clients and work about 25 hours a week (or whatever it takes certain weeks), get paid very well, and still have time to spend with my children two afternoons a week and in the later afternoons. I also have the flexibility to go to the gym now and then, entertain a supper club once a month and have dates with my husband. My clients always know where to reach me and understand that sometimes there'll be a little child-noise in the background. Working in corporate or at an agency, I was a slave to someone else's inflexibility. This is no longer the case.

Until agencies can really offer women PR practitioners who are also mothers less work hours (possibly through job-sharing) then there will be an exodus of those women (who can afford it) for the 5-6 years while their children are young.

Offering work at home days is very nice. Considering the options is big of your agency, no doubt. However, the REAL issue IS the number of hours you're requiring. Personally, I think there is a big need to brainstorm on how to fix THAT problem.

The idea that someone posted--that women are really just looking not to work and for their husbands to take care of them--is ludicrious. Almost any mom I've talked to who's given her heart and soul to this career (before she had the compelling and competing priorities of children) would run toward a high-paying, professional, part-time, challenging and rewarding PR post. I'd bet money on it.

April 21, 2006  
Blogger PR-Guy said...

Hi Cindi - Thanks for your comments, but I just want to clarify that this post was about building a career at an agency.

You note that you are on your own and doing well, which is great - but, many women executives I've known enjoy a team environment, and a (potentially more lucrative and stable) "career track."

In my reality, most clients are not keen on the idea of a job-sharing arrangement for a senior counselor...nor do I think most small/mid-sized agencies can afford two or more high-priced "part-timers."

So - I don't think 40 hours is inflexible: it's the typical workweek for most folks on a career track.

Having said that, I do not mean to imply that working less than 40 hours means "no job" - just that it is more likely to be "just" a job vs. a fast-track career.

Plus, I think the agency can be flexible about where and when those 40 hours take place (at home, at Starbucks, at 1am - whatever works).

Ultimately I stand by the part of my post that suggested that it is not "just" the woman who must be made happy - it is the clients, fellow team members, and management. It needs to be a win-win-win-win!

I think it is possible to achieve this; what disappoints me is when the idea to accommodate all parties is not even attempted.

April 22, 2006  
Anonymous Sherrilynne Starkie said...

Todd, I think your definition of flexibility is entirely acceptable. I'm not sure about your take on "career" v "just a job" though. I have seen women working in such arrangements have wonderful careers. If the consultant, the agency and the clients keep an open mind and use a little creativity everyone's needs can be met.

April 22, 2006  

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